Persistent war on cybercrime and its trends
Cybercrime is a long-term partner of the internet. The relationship is complicated, with frequent disputes, glass shattering, and seldom moments of peace. The toxic alliance finds no compromises, and crimes online continue to grow at an alarming pace. A high degree of our activities happens in the virtual space, and hacks are nearly as common as burglaries. Hence, cybercrime becomes a common word in our vocabulary. However, let’s take a brief history lesson on its origins and the current landscape, threatening the digital community.
Origin story: what is cybercrime?
Cybercrime refers to criminal activities that occur online, usually involving computers, networks, or smartphones. Amid the global integration of IoT devices, even your toaster or doorbell could fall victim to a cyberattack. Hence, cybercrimes are flexible, resistant, and often untraceable. Many regular netizens, enterprises, and governments continue to push cybersecurity aside as a non-priority. However, the escalating threat of computer viruses, data heists, sabotage, or digital vandalism reshapes cybercrime approaches. In some states, cybersecurity, resilience, proper coordination, and training become prime concerns. While the digital revolution inspires and ignites, villainous actors find new threat vectors to exploit.
The first cybercrime dates back to the 1970s when pioneer cybercriminals targeted computerized phone systems. The objective was to exploit the now ancient telephone hardware and steal long-distance telephone time. The law enforcement agencies at the time were unable to respond to such crimes adequately. The scarcity of specialists prevented authorities from finding solutions. Additionally, governments had no prepared prosecution procedures or legislation to follow. After that, the situation slowly turned dire, with hackers finding new threat vectors and authorities having no protocols approved. It would take decades for the cybercrime to develop into the phenomenon we see today. However, responses from governments and users tended to lag significantly.
Tragedies as inspiration for cybercrime
Hackers’ capacity to adapt to new circumstances is impressively frightening. Whenever tragedy strikes, con artists are first in line to exploit victims and take advantage of their pain. Here are some of the most devastating cybercrimes when hackers viciously targeted victims:
- COVID-19 inspired fraud. The outbreak gave a new cybercrime venue to hackers. Con artists impersonated health organizations and transmitted fake virus-related news or offers. While some scams hoped to extort users’ data, others promoted malicious files or led to counterfeit websites.
- Post-9/11 email heists. Amid the first anniversary of the terroristic attacks, The Department of Homeland Security had issued warnings. According to them, scammers had begun a deceptive campaign, urging people to support 9/11 victims and their families. Such phishing scams are a prevalent cybercrime in the digital world.
- Hurricane Katrina scams. The disastrous hurricane Katrina left thousands of people homeless. Medical centers and government facilities quickly reported phishing scams, hoping to extort people’s private information. The fake emails informed people of potential payouts to the victims. However, the websites suggested usually lead to malicious domains that only seemed legitimate.
Malware and new exploitations
- Evolution of ransomware. This type of cybercrime took its first steps as a file-encrypting virus. Once files stored on infected devices became unusable, hackers required a ransom via a text file. However, the ransomware advanced over the years. Instead of ransoms for unique decrypting software, hackers blackmail victims with threats of releasing stolen data publicly.
- New waves of spyware. As implied by the name, such cybercrimes log victims’ activities and report them to an unknown third-party entity. Physical access might be necessary to install such tools. However, cybercriminals can use deceptive techniques to trick victims into downloading them. Usually, these apps steal contact lists, text messages, photos, browsing histories, banking app details, and GPS locations. In 2019, FTC issued the first case against spyware creators. They did not impose enough assurance that perpetrators would not abuse their products.
- Data theft and its aftermath. Users’ personal information is a new currency online. Sadly, we have no idea whether the services granted permission to our data use industry-standard protection. Hence, data leaks occur regularly, and our data ends up publicly available or abused for criminals’ gain. Identity theft is one of the most devastating cybercrimes. The intentional use of victims’ information can lead to harassment, humiliation, and even severe financial losses.
- Cybercrime and hacktivism. While we tend to blame hackers, 90% of cybercrime relies on human error. Some crooks are not after money or data. Instead, their attacks expose inadequate approaches towards cybersecurity. Other scenarios are expressions of people defending their political values for standing up against the regime. Hacktivism is the concept reflected through such notorious events as leaks of politicians’ controversial emails.
How to defend against cybercrime?
- Minimalistic approach. When browsing, you should not give away your information voluntarily. Social media handles assist various cybercrimes and help criminals shape personalized attacks. Furthermore, do not keep old accounts active. Contact website administrators and ask them to remove your data (if you cannot do that manually).
- Be skeptical: if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Do not fall for the oldest tricks in the book. Let’s say you find a questionable website, offering you to download a movie that recently came out in theaters. Do not be too quick to press the “download” button. You might get more than you bargained for: the movie might be malware in disguise. Once you download it, it might record your activity, encrypt files, or perform other cybercrimes.
- Do not use simple passwords. Each combination you apply for security should be a complexity masterpiece. If you have trouble coming up with random but difficult passwords, employ password managers. They not only provide you with auto-fill features but generate new combinations.
- Update software and OS. Cybercrime frequently happens because systems or devices have glaring vulnerabilities. If left untreated, they might work as a backdoor, allowing crooks to steal data, install malware, or spy on you. So, do not hesitate to install new patches immediately after they become available.
- Apply industry-standard security tools. Antivirus tools will run regular automatic scans and report issues back to users. Software will detect potentially unwanted tools and malware that compromises your cybersecurity. Another vital component of your digital journey is a VPN. It performs advanced encryption of your web traffic and prevents unauthorized access to it. With reliable antivirus and VPN tools, you will be safe from both ends. One will take care of viruses that managed to slither into devices, and the other will prevent any accidental data leaks during browsing.
Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. Interested in cybercrime, online security, and privacy-related topics.